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Grier on How To Improve Sharks, Will Smith Update, Still Evaluating Quinn

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Credit: San Jose Sharks

Mike Grier has a couple ideas about how to make the San Jose Sharks better next season.

Of course, the Sharks can’t get much worse, right? Their .287 Points % is the second-worst of the salary cap era, only ahead of the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings’ .275.

“I would hope this is rock-bottom and we can kind of progress and take some steps forward next year,” the San Jose GM said in his exit interview today. “It was worse than I expected coming into the season. I didn’t think we were a playoff team, but thought we’d be better than we were. From the start, we had the injuries, everything just kind of snowballed.”

Grier isn’t blaming his team’s ineptitude solely on the deep groin issue that reduced star center Logan Couture to just six games played this season – he also alluded to other moves that he did or didn’t make in free agency or via trade. He didn’t wish to be more specific than that, but took responsibility.

“I think the season overall wasn’t good enough, and I think everyone—starting with me—has got to kind of self-assess and look in the mirror and see what you did wrong and what you can do better,” he said. “It all starts with me.”

Moving forward?

“We definitely need to get faster, be harder to play against. On my side, I think that’s through free agency or trades—looking to add players that kind of fit the bill,” he said. “We have roster space and cap flexibility to be able to try and add and target some guys.”

The San Jose Sharks could have tens of millions to play with in free agency, but don’t expect them to go wild. Grier was clear that the rebuilding Sharks aren’t in a place, competitively, to hand out long contracts to any UFAs. The longest contract that Grier has given a free agent since he took over in Jul. 2022 was a four-year, $6 million deal with defenseman Matt Benning. That’s about the term, or less, that he’s looking to add this summer.

Also, it’s not just about eking out a few more wins. Grier isn’t looking to skip any steps of a proper rebuild. Losing is to be expected. But a rebuild is more than just adding picks and prospects, it’s also about creating a positive, winning culture, no matter the results, for the future stars of the franchise, be it William Eklund, Will Smith, or hopefully, Macklin Celebrini, to grow up with.

A positive, winning culture isn’t an NHL-worst goal differential of -150 and getting routed by six-or-more-goals seven times this season.

“The initial phase of [the rebuild], and probably the most painful part of it, is over with. Now, we got to build it up,” Grier hoped. “We’re excited about the young players we’ve added. We have to support them with some of the right type of veteran and experienced players.”

Expect Luke Kunin to be one of those players. While the gritty winger scored just 11 goals this season, the pending RFA is regarded as a standard-bearer for the “harder to play against” mentality that Grier wants to see more of from the Sharks.

“Kunny is someone who exemplifies a lot of the things that we’re looking for here, he was someone who was in the battle every night. We needed more guys doing that,” Grier said. “He played hurt, he fought much more than I would like him to fight, but he never thought twice about getting in there and protecting a teammate or sticking up for someone.”

Obviously, Grier is hoping that Couture is part of his core group of “veteran and experienced players” next year, but the captain is still trying to get healthy. Grier did note that Benning, who had season-ending hip surgery, is back skating, and should be ready by camp. Both Couture and Benning, like Kunin, are considered to be culture-setters.

Grier also thinks that 2023 fourth-overall pick Will Smith, who just completed a dominating freshman season at Boston College, can help. The Sharks still need to score, after all.

“I think he’s ready for the NHL,” Grier said. “He’s got the brain, he’s got the talent. He’s already maturing physically, and so from my standpoint, I think he can play in the league.”

Of course, it’s up to Smith whether he wants to leave college. Grier says conversations with the 19-year-old and his representation are ongoing, and no decision has been made yet either way.

Besides Kunin, Filip Zadina is another significant San Jose Sharks’ RFA.

Grier seemed open to bringing Zadina back.

The Sharks also have plenty of UFAs like Kevin Labanc, Alexander Barabanov, Mike Hoffman, Justin Bailey, Ryan Carpenter, Jacob MacDonald, and Devin Cooley.

Grier said that he’s going to let Labanc, Barabanov, and Hoffman walk, and hasn’t made decisions on the other UFAs.

Finally, Sharks head coach David Quinn and Barracuda head coach John McCarthy have seen rock-bottom of the rebuild. Will they be part of making things better?

“I think there’s still evaluation,” Grier said. “All of that is part of my job—is to get as much information as I can from the players and exit meetings and staff and talk with [owner Hasso Plattner] and things like that. Our staff, the hockey office staff, will talk once we get all the information in. Talk with Hasso as well, we’ll kind of go from there.”

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